AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and the rest of the Orioles' entourage checked into the Ritz-Carlton yesterday with modest but important goals for this week's general managers' meetings.
They are the rule rather than the exception.
With teams prohibited from tendering offers for rival clubs' free agents until next Saturday, much will be said but significantly less likely accomplished.
Even Thrift, who relishes talking trade as much as anyone in the industry, is not making grand predictions for this week's get-together. But that's not to say important work isn't on his agenda.
"Something may happen, but probably nothing earth-shattering," said Thrift, accompanied by special assistants Danny Garcia and Ed Kinney Jr. and assistant director of minor-league operations Tripp Norton. "We have issues with our 40-man [roster] that might be addressed, which could create an opportunity for something else down the road."
To clear roster room, the Orioles are prepared to deal several players whose futures have dimmed.
Third baseman Ryan Minor and infielder Jesse Garcia fit the profile. Neither received substantial playing time after July's clubhouse purge. Minor, who has one option remaining, will turn 27 in January and will have little opportunity to enhance his value given Cal Ripken's return next season.
Thrift's purpose in such transactions would likely be to plumb for nonroster players to further stock a recovering farm system.
Thrift conceded last week that the Orioles are in search of two starting pitchers and will make known their interest in free-agent shortstop Mike Bordick, whom the club dealt to the New York Mets on July 28 for a four-player package, including utility player Melvin Mora. After serving as the Orioles' starting shortstop during the season's final two months, Mora is now believed more likely to play center field next season with Eugene Kingsale projected as a backup, allowing Luis Matos an opportunity to mature offensively at Triple-A Rochester.
The Orioles appear ready to abide by free-agent pitcher Mike Mussina's desire to cool negotiations until he contemplates accepting an outside bid. Mussina says he will then approach the Orioles about matching, or at least approaching, the offer.
Mussina will be a central topic for many teams this week. Given free-agent left-hander Mike Hampton's preference to stay in the National League, Mussina will become a leading target for American League teams, such as the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and perhaps the Chicago White Sox. Mussina's demand for a six-year deal is not considered a hurdle, and his availability to pitching-starved AL teams is certain to drive his worth well beyond the Orioles' latest bid of $72 million ($12 million deferred without interest) over six years.
If the Orioles write off Mussina - and industry sentiment believes they will - they may adopt an alternative of pursuing two less costly arms within a thin market.
Hampton, the Mets' ace, officially filed yesterday after rejecting the club's latest offer.
Thrift on Friday refused to confirm the club's interest in free-agent left-hander Denny Neagle; however, an industry source confirmed such interest. Asked earlier last week whether he considered Neagle a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, Thrift replied, "Possibly."
Neagle, who lives in Gambrills, sought a four-year deal averaging $10 million a season from the Yankees compared to New York's offer of about $8 million a season.
The Orioles have enjoyed only mixed success with left-handed starters since moving into Camden Yards, and the two-year wilt by Jimmy Key remains fresh in ownership's thinking, though the Arundel High graduate offers intangibles as a local attraction and a positive clubhouse force.
Insisting "we already have a starting first baseman" in Chris Richards, Thrift has not ruled out pursuing a more proven run producer at the position to provide heft to an underpowered lineup.
The Atlanta Braves allowed 38-year-old first baseman Andres Galarraga to pursue free agency but he is expected to be targeted by the Chicago Cubs, who likely won't retain Mark Grace.